Adaptability key to successful 2020-21 season for Winnipeg Jets, says team general manager

Puck-drop for the Winnipeg Jets regular season is slated to start in 16 days, and the team’s general manager says the key to a successful campaign will be adaptability.

The NHL announced suddenly last week that a 56-game regular season would start mid-January. The Winnipeg Jets are in a division with the other six Canadian NHL teams, and open their season at home against the Calgary Flames on Jan. 14, 2021.

“The team that doesn’t get flustered when something happens, or there’s a delay, or your [COVID-19] tests don’t show up on time and you have to delay practice for three hours — those are the kind of things we might have to face,” said Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff during a news conference Tuesday.

“The teams that can adapt to that and roll with those kinds of punches are the ones that are going to be successful.”

There are several other challenges facing the Jets this year, including finding a way to gel in spite of the various health restrictions in place, said Cheveldayoff.

“Hockey is such a team sport, and you have to rely on that person sitting next to you so much. That person is going to be sitting six feet away, sort of speak,” he said. “Will you have the ability to build that kind of chemistry, that kind of bond?”

The 2019-20 NHL regular season was put on hold last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When play resumed in the NHL bubble, players had to work to build cohesiveness again with their teammates, Cheveldayoff explained. 

The season ahead is completely new, and the team has new players that have to be integrated into the lineup and the culture, he said.

Also, team’s have to adjust to a different type of schedule. In order to limit travel while maximizing the number of games played, teams will play many mini-series against each other like baseball teams do.

NHL teams don’t typically play a series format unless it’s a playoff series, Cheveldayoff said.

The Jets will play against the other Canadian teams nine or 10 times each this year. Of the seven Canadian teams, only the Ottawa Senators were not in the bubble last summer. Three of the teams — the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames — made the playoffs.

“It’s going to be a very competitive division,” said Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp. “You can look at the teams one through seven, and no matter what way it shakes out you wouldn’t really be surprised.

Andrew Copp, shown here, expects the Canadian division to be very competitive. (Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

“We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

This year there is a shortened training camp and preseason, but Copp says that adds urgency to practice and the first regular season games.

“We have to be ready right away,” he said. “We can’t start out 0-4.”

Jets hope to give some joy amid 2nd wave

Many places around the world have been forced to partially lockdown again because of the severity of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the five provinces with NHL teams are no exception.

The Winnipeg health region was put under red level, or critical, COVID-19 restrictions on Nov. 2. All of Manitoba was put under those same restrictions on Nov. 12, and red level restrictions will remain in effect until at least Jan. 8, 2021.

As a result, people had to stop playing sports and were discouraged against unnecessary travel.

When the NHL announced its regular season, it was a surprise because hours earlier, provincial health officials, including Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief public health officer, had said discussions with the NHL were still ongoing about how to navigate public health guidelines.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly later believed the league received the go-ahead after receiving a note from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, on behalf of the top health officials from the five affected jurisdictions.

The note asked for increased COVID-19 testing than what was originally detailed in the return-to-play plan, or for the NHL to create another bubble for the Canadian teams.

Dr. Atwal would not speak specifically to the concessions made when asked about them by a reporter during a news conference Tuesday, citing that he has not seen a final return-to-play plan.

“From a player’s perspective, they had a good plan and we had some recommendations to help mitigate risk even further,” Atwal said. “Those recommendations were provided to the NHL. So at this point, I think we’re just going to wait to hear back from them.”

Cheveldayoff, who has been on some of the calls between the NHL and public health officials, told reporters Tuesday that the health rules for players will be restrictive

But ultimately, he hopes that NHL hockey — and the Jets in particular — can bring some joy to people during a severe second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everyone’s looking for something that will make them feel good, and we hope that we can provide that in a lot of different ways,” he said.

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